Produced and directed by Moomal Productions and Fahim Burney and written by Saima Wasi, Erum Wasi and Edison Idrees Masih, Laaj airs every Saturday on HUM TV at 8pm.
Laaj is the story of two feuding families in rural Punjab. We are introduced to the family of Bari Sahab (Asma Abbas) and her two sons Jahanzeb (Kamran Jillani) and Shahzeb (Mirza Zain Baig). Zainab (Zarnish Khan) is Baris Sahab’s dead sister’s daughter and has lived with Bari Sahab since her mother died when she was little. Jahanzeb has been married earlier to Meena and has a daughter Mannat (Iqra Aziz) who has been raised primarily by Zainab after Meena’s death.
Sikander (Nayyar Ejaz) is Bari Sahab’s dead husband’s brother and the two have been at loggerheads with each other over the family property and lands. Sikander feels Bari Sahab has been unfair and has not given him his due share in the family jaidaad. He lives with his son Dilawar (Saleem Sheikh), Dilawar’s wife and his grandson Chooza, I mean Sajjad. In a gesture of goodwill to mend the relations between the two families Mannat is wed to Sajjad.
Sikander apparently had underlying motives behind agreeing to the marriage and suggests that Bari Sahab transfer a certain land in his name or face Mannat getting divorced to which Bari Sahab opts for the latter. Overhearing Sajjad make fun of Mannat after the divorce, Jahanzeb in a fit of rage has Sajjad murdered. Sikander vows to make Bari Sahab’s family pay but he wants her to suffer and we do not know as yet what he has his up his sleeve.
Zainab has been in love with Jahanzeb since umm, forever and never misses an opportunity to tell him that. He keeps telling her he is not interested but she keeps harping along the lines of ‘ishq kiya hai, love me or not I will annoyingly, obsessively, stalkerishly (my words, not hers) love you till I die’. Mannat is in love with Shahmeer, a young man from the village who is not as well off as Bari Sahab’s family is and works for her family. The two are in love but feel, rather believe nothing can come of their love as Bari Sahab would never agree to such a match.
Let’s not forget Shahzeb – the educated, younger son who is a misfit amongst the family and their fueds. He is interested in Alisha (Sabeeka Imam) but has not yet had the nerve to broach the subject of marriage to Bari Sahab. Mirza Zain Baig is very unimpressive in Dillagi but as the educated misfit he seems to be doing a decent job – or maybe the flashy waistcoats have diverted my attention from his acting! I wonder if this couple has much to offer to the story beyond the flashy waistcoats and Sabeeka Imam’s duck mouth pouts. At the end of the latest episode, Alisha has shown up at Shahzeb’s haveli, Zainab is flinging herself for the zillionth time at Jahanzeb and he has rebuffed her advances for the zillionth time, and Bari Sahab comes upon Mannat and Shahmeer meeting alone.
Why am I watching Laaj? I am not entirely sure. The set, the scenes, the clothes are all very colourful and visually pleasing. Zarnish Khan is a good actress although I find her accent fluctuates from being normal to more village like. Kamran Jillani as Jahanzeb has impressed me if I am very honest for his expressions, his accent, his body language fits his role to a T. Another person who seems to have fit into her role like a glove is Asma Abbas as Bari Sahab. With her big eyes outlined and the severe black clothing and the constant hukka, she does look intimidating. The constant hukka does remind me of the trains cartoon my son used to watch and I wonder if she needs to be a Chuggington in every scene but oh well. The actor playing Shahmeer is truly bechara, and Iqra Aziz is sigh, Iqra Aziz with her only acting skills being limited to eyes narrowing and widening a centimetre and the same with her lips. A clogs-less Iqra Aziz however is refreshing to see!
The storyline itself. I tuned in knowing this was a story of zamindars and fueds but I was pleasantly surprised to see that these ‘angry people’ did more than just shout and get angry and beat each other up. Although Bari Sahab and Jahanzeb are shown to be short with the driver or the women working in the house at times, but then the questions about Shameer’s mother’s health and sending his father to the city for a medical checkup show they are not heartless. I like Bari Sahab’s relationship with Zainab too when she tells her that the haveli people should be scared of her and not Zainab. I do wonder though why Zainab has not told Bari Sahab she loves Jahanzeb. I also wondered at Bari Sahab not thinking of wedding Zainab to either of her sons but that was clarified when she says to the rishtay wali that she does not want people to think that she kept Zainab in her home for greed of her jaidaad and feels she must marry outside the family. Jahanzeb is often seen to be looking mournfully and talking to his dead wife’s picture which shows he must have loved her a great deal.
I found the age differences hard to figure or relate to at first and I suppose by the fifth episode I just got used to it. But what confused me was Jahanzeb saying to Zainab to think about their age difference as if there were a huge gap. Then Zainab looks hardly much older than Mannat, but she raised her like a mother. So if Zainab is that old, then why has Bari Sahab not gotten her married, despite her protests that she does not want to wed but surely she would not have a 30 something niece sitting at home and not worry about her marriage? Kamran Jillani could possibly pass off as a father of a teenager but suggesting he is much older than Zainab did not make sense.
I find Zainab type characters in our drama hard to link to real life. Does a woman really become like that that she is constantly declaring her love to responses of constant rejection and carry on with a smile on her face content that she has done her duty to love the man of her life with all her heart – heart accepted or not, be damned! She does give in to frustration I agree and sometimes yells at Jhanzeb or has a meltdown but I almost gagged at the conversations she and Jahanzeb often have such as when she tells him ‘Zaida ghussa na kia karein’ and he asks ‘kyun’ and she says ‘Aur pyar aata hai’….uggh!
The story so far is not outstanding and maybe Laaj would not be on my top dramas list but despite the loopholes, it is the acting so far and the fact that I am waiting for the ‘punch’ in the storyline which makes me feel I may keep wanting to watch it. It does have a filmy touch to it and all the jhumkas and bangles clanging all the time got a bit much for me. The promos show that Jahanzeb will be arrested but I wonder where the story goes from there. Recommended watch? Yes, if you have the time and want to watch something where the acting does not make you wince and the characters are not so cliché. I am not gushing (obviously) but I am not entirely put off either! How many of you are following Laaj and what do you think of it so far? Would love to hear your thoughts.